By: Fatima Rizvi

Recently some desperate auto rickshaw drivers climbed high tension pylons to protest the brutal and unreasonable behavior of traffic wardens and police. They were fed up of being mistreated and obviously no one was prepared to help them. Their feat did make it into the media but had zero impact. More recently people protesting severe energy shortages besieged a power grid station and beat up the staff. In Faisalabad there were violent street protests against unemployment, the cost of living and power cuts. A government official’s car was smashed and police and private security guards were badly beaten—again some media coverage but no real concern.

In Karachi where political parties battle for turf there have been protests against extortion, kidnappings and street crime. Not much has been done except for a well publicized ‘crack-down’—all the criminals had to do was leave before the operation started and return once it ended. While the ethnic, sectarian and political divides in Karachi spawn crime and violence a little reported event took place in Sindh—some 3000 people agitated for Sindhu Desh (homeland for Sindhis). The killings in Baluchistan are reported on back pages as small news items and merit just a passing reference in the electronic media. Kidnapping is a thriving and successful business. A Swiss couple held hostage were freed after a ransom was paid. A Swedish woman was released after a one million ransom was air dropped as instructed by the kidnappers. The son in law of a top military official was released after a hefty payment. The son of a former Governor, the Vice Chancellor of Peshawer University and an American kidnapped from Lahore are all in the custody of kidnappers and no one can do anything. These are just the high profile cases—hundreds of businessmen and professionals have had most horrible experiences.

A movement ostensibly for the defense of Pakistan with religious hard liners and militants in their front ranks has held public meetings and rallies all over the country. Their demands are remarkably similar to the demands of the Pakistan Taliban fighting the state in the western tribal areas—sharia law, jehad and militancy. Al Qaeda or what is left of it came out with similar guidance and specifically mentioned the government, the military and the intelligence agencies as legitimate targets. Retired senior military men, right wing political parties, a segment of the media and public opinion seem to be in sync with this movement or at least agree with their agenda with many praising Osama bin Laden and all fanning hatred and anti American sentiment.

These are ominous signs and the writing on the wall is that Pakistan has serious internal issues that need immediate attention. This can only happen if there is an orchestration of state resources with all institutions coming on the same page and pulling in the same direction. There are no indications that this is going to happen any time soon in spite of the economy and internal security being in a downward spiral. A cartoon in a newspaper said it all—political leaders were shown juggling balls with memogate, mehrangate, letter to Swiss etc written on them while a starving man in tatters ( the people) watched from the sidelines. External forces may be exploiting the problems that we face but the problems are of our own making and it follows that only we can solve them—if we want to!